08 Aug Valuing Teenager’s Confidentiality in Therapy: Addressing Parental Worry
IS THERAPY CONFIDENTIAL?
Confidentiality is one of the warps and woofs of therapy. By being assured that you can say anything to your therapist and it will remain between you both, helps you feel safe and build trust with your therapist.
BUT if you are the parent of a teenager in therapy, you may have several questions scaling up about confidentiality with your teen’s therapist and the idea of wanting to reach out to your teenager’s therapist at some point.
Why maintaining confidentiality for the teen essential?
Stated in Harvard Health blog, according to a study by Zucker et al (2019), researchers found that today’s youth do have concerns relating privacy and they may also lie about their risk behaviours or not seek health care services due to confidentiality concerns. As anyone who has been a teen knows, there are things you don’t always feel comfortable discussing in front of a parent or guardian for instance: sex or sexuality, substance use, mental health concerns or even physical concerns which they might be hesitant to talk about with parents considering it as silly to talk about or embarrassing or they might not want to worry their parents which means a teen could miss the opportunity to learn, explore questions or feelings about sexuality or healthy relationships and friendships.
However, this is not what we want for our teens and adolescents.
Besides the fact that what is most important is your child’s health and safety, the unavoidable fact is that teens grow into adults who need to learn to advocate their own health and well-being. And the best way to learn to do something is by practicing it.
As a parent, it makes sense that you would feel like being involved in your child’s therapy, willing to understand his or her point of view. There is no denying that parents do play an active role in their child’s life and provide their teens the love and support they need, in order to grow into healthy and mature beings.
For this reason,
- You have a desire to tell your teen’s therapist what you think they need to work on
The fact is you would share it with the therapist, but just considering what you want your child to work on will be enough. Bluntly speaking, NO, it won’t be.
A teenager must feel that their therapist is on their team. If parents tip the wink of the therapist, telling them what to work on, the parents become the client instead of the teenager and the teenager certainly won’t feel like THEIR goals are what is driving therapy.
While I understand it doesn’t seem fair that as financial, emotional and social supporters (parents /guardians) of the client, not getting direct access to these services could feel frustrating. However, parent’s access to their teen’ therapist, specially without the presence of the adolescent/teen may actually ruin the therapist-teen relationship, which is the most essential element of the therapy.
To avoid such a situation, absolute transparency helps. At any point, if the parent needs to communicate anything with their teen’s therapist, their teens should be informed about it; or it should take place in the presence of the teenager.
This keeps their trust and they don’t have to wonder whose agenda is on board.
2.You wish to seek reassurance from the therapist about your teen.
Reassurance, could be a nice band-aid that works in short run by giving you something to soothe your worrying thoughts. But, not in the long term. Because as soon as it wears off, those worrying thoughts will come back and you’ll need more and more reassurance.
Also, another constructive way to look at this could be to think about how anxious you are about not being a part of your child’s therapy. Similarly, think about how anxious your teenager will feel if they are not a part of their OWN therapy.
Yet, if you still feel like engaging with your teen’s therapist, it needs to be done very carefully by having your teenager present during all conversations. It is a perfect opportunity for them to practice all they are learning in therapy to cope skilfully in an uncomfortable scenario.
Including your child in almost every situation in that conversation is best because it:
- Protects the therapeutic relationship between your teenager and their therapist, so therapy actually works.
- Prevents replicating an unhealthy family dynamic in therapy.
- Reduces the risk of your teen blaming you for violating their privacy.
- Teaches your teenager how to be their own advocate.
- Prevents the therapist from burning out so they can continue to be effective in their therapeutic realm.
- You want to share your observation about your child and the things that could work for/on them
Bringing your prospective in the therapy session through your teen’s therapist might barge your teen to introspect into their own world, leaving them confused and distant many times.
Instead ensuring your child is included in any conversation with the therapist and having your teenager present in the conversation allows them with the opportunity to agree/disagree/modify/advocate, and give their prospective in that moment.
This protects the essential therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist.
- You want advice from your teen’s therapist on what to do for a particular situation
A therapist will not provide advice, but recommendations if at all the need be.
If your child has crossed limits, broken house rules, the recommendation will likely be towards using behaviour changing strategies/behavioural modification tools and techniques. For example, this may mean implementing consequences. If your teenager starts anticipating this as coming from their therapist, s/he may want to start avoiding their therapy sessions.
This can complicate the situation further because one’s role as a therapist here is to help the teen learn to accept consequences, gracefully.
Specifically, here, consulting a parenting coach could benefit, which your therapist may recommend if needed.
- Scheduling your teen’s session with their therapist for them
Scheduling their own sessions themselves gives your teen an opportunity to take ownership towards their behaviours and actions. The older your teenager gets, the more responsibility they can take for managing their schedule. It aids in in growth & self-dependence.
- Your fear about your teen being in early relationship/s
As Parents of a teen in ‘therapy’, we may fear about our teen being upset because of their early as well as intimate relationships. As a mother of an adolescent, I myself resonate with this fear.
It can leave us as parents in a dilemma, because if we allow our adolescent or teenager to be in a relationship, there would be consequences. For instance, distraction from studies and risks of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Though, if prohibited, parents fear that their teen might indulge in such aspects secretively, which can make the situation worse.
Carrying this big-time dilemma parents might have an urge to reach out to their teen’s counsellor/therapist to ask what is actually going on or which path they should be choosing. But your teen’s therapist is neither a Parenting coach nor your Family therapist.
Parenting teens can be hard, and it could be immensely difficult for the parents to know how to involve themselves in their teen’s therapy in an appropriate manner.
Though through the above discourse, we understand the utmost importance of the confidentiality of a teen in the therapy, but it may also not be appropriate for the parents to distant themselves absolutely from the whole experience of their teen’s therapy in the name of confidentiality.
Parents too play an important role in their teenager’s therapeutic world as they as they are the primary caregivers and family to the teen and as a minor, parents have the full authority to understand their teen’s difficulties.
I understand that as a parent, you wish to see your child as happy, sorted and involved with you. However, observing your own self, noticing your own behaviours can be an effective first step towards bringing warmth, positive changes and willingness from your teen towards a healthier life.
Showing and demonstrating trust that you are there for your teen, by listening to them, by providing unconditional love and support, by being willing to acknowledge your teen therapist’s recommendations, by visiting your teen’s therapy sessions as and when required/called could be helpful towards shaping a successful therapeutic process.
I understand, it can feel overwhelming and also ignite curiosity to know what is going on with your teenager. Also, not clipping the idea of your teenage/other teenagers with your adolescent can seem difficult to comprehend. If you feel you still have questions on why confidentiality for your teenager in therapy essential, please feel free to book a slot and clarify all your doubts at any point.
Editing Team: Lucid Mind